Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas day talk 2014: the emptying of God

Luke 2.7,12

What did Jesus bring with him when he came from heaven?

I have with me his suitcase. It is a big suitcase because we are talking about the Son of God. There must be a great deal of pretty precious stuff in it!

So could you open the case for us

[Have pre-arranged helper open large suitcase in which you have put an empty wallet and some strips of cloth]

1. Where will he stay?

Somewhere in that suitcase there must be a key – a key to a place where he is going to stay. I suspect that it is a big key, because he is the Son of God. He is the ruler of all rulers, the leader of all leaders, the king of all kings. He is the person who is one day going to come back to judge the world and to rule the world

[helper puts head in case and searches in vain]

Look harder. There must be a key in there. Maybe it is a small key?

It will be the key to a glorious palace, designed by the greatest of architects. This is God we are talking about: when you come into his palace you will know that this is the throne of God. On the walls will be the most precious and most exquisite works of art. The furniture will have been crafted by experts. It will be priceless. This palace will make the Palace of Versailles look like a rabbit hutch.

There is no key. Well, where is he going to stay?

2. What about money? How will he live? Is there a purse in there?

[helper brings out purse]

Yes, I thought so. Open it up. I’ve always wanted to see what a divine debit card looks like. It will be made of sheer gold. This is the account of the one who owns everything. Not just in this planet, but in the whole universe. With the divine debit card there is nothing that you cannot buy.

[helper shakes purse upside down and shows it is empty]

There is nothing?! Not even £5?

3. Well this is a suitcase. It must have some suits in it.

This is the Son of God, this is the one who has come to earth to show us what God is like. He will wear impressive clothes, made from the most expensive fabric, designed and embroidered by angels. His first baby grow will be glorious. It will be the trend setter for centuries. And you, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls are going to get the first sight of it.

[helper looks in case and shakes their head]

What? No clothes?

[helper has been pretending to search inside case and triumphantly pulls out some strips of cloth]

What is that? Strips of cloth. What are they for?

4. Is there anything else in the case?

[helper holds up case to show it is empty]

It is not what we would expect.

God comes to earth, and there is no key. He has no palace. He doesn’t even have a home. He is born in a cowshed.

God comes to earth and there is no celestial credit card. He comes not with wealth, but with nothing. He was born in abject poverty: to a peasant family who had no money and who had been ordered to come to a strange town where they had no family support structure.

God comes to earth and there is no divine baby grow. He is wrapped, swaddled, bound in strips of cloth.  

God comes to earth with nothing.

Luke 2.6ff: ‘While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in an inn’

And just in case we think it all might have been a mistake, we hear the angels say to the shepherds, ‘This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’ (Luke 2.12)

This is what God planned.

One of the greatest preachers who ever lived, a man called Chrysostom (Chrysostom is a nickname – it means in Greek, ‘golden mouth’) said over 1600 years ago,

‘Surely if He had so willed it, He might have come moving the heavens, making the earth to shake, and shooting forth His thunderbolts, but such was not the way of His going forth. His desire was not to destroy, but to save, and to trample upon human pride from its very birth.’

We think that life is about where we live, about wealth and what we wear and what we have.

But that is not what life is ultimately about.

God shows us in baby Jesus what life is all about.

God leaving heaven and becoming a human being, not at our highest but at our lowest, not at our richest but at our our poorest, not at our best but at our worst. He came so that we might get to know Him. It is about relationship, relationship with the living God.

Christmas shows us the heart of God – a heart of love. He freely gives up all that he has, in order to come to us so that we might come to know him.

And because he was born in a cowshed and not a palace – we have prepared for us heavenly mansions, palaces beyond our wildest imaginations.

And because he became poor – he offers us a treasure that is priceless: intimacy with him, love, joy, peace, fruitfulness, fulfilment and hope.

And because he was bound in strips of linen – he offers us a royal robe. 

To quote from another ancient writer, this time someone from this land, the venerable Bede:
‘He who clothes the whole world with its varied beauty, is wrapped up in common linen, that we might be able to receive the best robe. He by whom all things are made, is folded both hands and feet, that our hands might be raised up for every good work, and our feet directed in the way of peace’. 

And Bede goes on to point out that Bethlehem means literally ‘the house of bread’. And is it not strange that the one who was laid in a cattle feeding trough – is the one who tells us that he is the bread of life, that he is the one we are to hunger for, and to feed on?

Because he had nothing - he offers us everything. He who became a human child offers us, human children, the right to become children of God.


May God give us this Christmas a profound and humble gratitude for what he has done for us, and may he give us a deep hunger for him – and as we meet him now, and take his words deep into our lives, as we feast on him, may you know the freedom he gives, the joy he gives and the abundance he gives. 

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